Part 2 out of 5
and then they would plunder the house, and perhaps cut her throat and
strangle the baby!
"Never mind them, never mind them!" the fallen _cacique_ would reply,
with a condescending smile. "They aren't so bad as you imagine. They'll
sing their _Marseillaise_ for a time and shout themselves hoarse. Why
shouldn't they, if they're content with so little? Other days are
coming. The Carlists will see to it that our cause triumphs."
In don Ramon's judgment, the Doctor was a good sort, though his head may
have been a bit turned by books. He knew him very well: they had been
schoolmates together, and Rafael's father had never cared to join the
hue and cry against Doctor Moreno. The one thing that seemed to bother
him was that, as soon as the Republic was proclaimed, the Doctor's
friends were eager to send him as a deputy to the Constituent Assembly
of '73. That lunatic a deputy! Whereas he, the friend and agent of so
many Conservative ministries, had never dared think of the office for
himself, because of the fairly superstitious awe in which he held it!
The end of the world was surely coming!
But the Doctor had refused the nomination. If he were to go to Madrid,
what would become of the poor people who depended on him for health and
protection? Besides, he liked a quiet, sedentary life, with his books
and his studies, where he could satisfy his desires without quarrels and
fighting. His deep convictions impelled him to mingle with the masses,
and speak in public places--where he proved to be a successful agitator,
but he refused to join party organizations; and after a lecture or an
oration, he would spend days and days with his books and magazines,
alone save for his sister--a docile, pious woman who worshipped him,
though she bewailed his irreligion--and for his little daughter, a
blonde girl whom Rafael could scarcely remember, because her father's
unpopularity with the "best people" kept the little child away from
The Doctor had one passion--music; and everybody admired his talent for
that art. What didn't the man know, anyhow? According to dona Bernarda
and her friends, that remarkable skill had been acquired through "evil
arts." It was another fruit of his impiety! But that did not prevent
crowds from thronging the streets at night, cautioning pedestrians to
walk more softly as they approached his house; nor from opening their
windows to hear better when that devil of a doctor would be playing his
violoncello. This he did when certain friends of his came up from
Valencia to spend a few days with him--a queer, long-haired crew that
talked a strange language and referred to a fellow called Beethoven
with as much respect as if he were San Bernardo himself.
"Yes, don Andres," said Rafael. "I remember Doctor Moreno very well."
And his ears seemed to tingle again with the diabolical melodies that
had floated in to the side of his little bed on terrible nights still
fresh in his memory.
"Very well," continued the old man. "That lady is the Doctor's daughter.
What a man he was! How he made your father and me fume in the days of
'73! Now that all that is so far in the past, I'll say he was a fine
fellow. His brain had gone somewhat bad from reading too much, like don
Quixote; and he was crazy over music. Most charming manners he had,
however. He married a beautiful orchard-girl, who happened to be very
poor. He said the marriage was ... for the purpose of perpetuating the
species--those were his very words--of having strong, sound, healthy
children. For that he didn't need to bother about his wife's social
position. What he was looking for was health. So he picked out that
Teresa of his, as strong as an ox, and as fresh as an apple. But little
good it did the poor woman. She had one baby and died a few days
afterward, despite the science and the desperate efforts of her husband.
They had lived together less than a year."
Rafael's companions were listening with as much attention as he; for
morbid curiosity is the characteristic of the people of small places,
where the keenest pleasure available is that of knowing the private
affairs of others intimately.
"And now comes the good part," don Andres continued. "The mad Doctor
had two saints: Castelar and Beethoven. The pictures of those fellows
were scattered in every room of the house, even in the attic. This
Beethoven (in case you don't know it), was an Italian or an Englishman,
I'm not sure which--one of those fellows who makes music up out of his
head for people to play in theatres or for lunatics like Moreno to amuse
themselves with. Well, when his daughter was born the Doctor wondered
what name to give her. As a tribute to Emilio Castelar, his idol, he
felt he ought to call her Emilia: but he liked the sound of Leonora
better (no, not Lenor, but Leonora!). According to what he told us, that
was the title of the only opera Beethoven ever wrote--an opera he could
read, for that matter, the way I read the paper. Anyhow, the foreigner
won out; and the Doctor packed the child off to church with his sister,
who took a few neighbors of the poorer sort along to see Leonora
"You can imagine what the priest said after he had looked in vain
through the catalogue of saints for that name. At the time I was
employed in the municipal offices, and I had to intervene. This was all
before the Revolution; Gonzalez Brabo was boss in those days--and good
old days they were! Let an enemy of law and order or sound religion just
raise his voice and he was off on his way to Fernando Pio in no time.
Well, what a racket the Doctor raised! He sat himself down in that
church--first time he'd ever been in the place--and insisted that his
daughter be labeled as he directed. Later he thought he would take her
home without any baptism at all, saying he had no use for the ceremony
anyhow, and that he put up with it only to please his sister. During
the argument, he called all the curates and acolytes assembled in the
sacristy there, a pack of 'brahmans.'"
"He must have said Brahmins," interrupted Rafael.
"Yes, that's it: and Bonzes, too--just joking, of course--I remember
very well. But finally he compromised and let her be baptized with the
orthodox name of 'Leonor.' Not that he cared what they called her in the
church. As he went out he said to the priest: "She will be 'Leonora' for
reasons that please her father, and which you wouldn't understand even
if I were to explain them to you." What a hubbub followed! Don Ramon and
I had to interfere to calm the good curates; they were for sending him
up for sacrilege, insult to religion, what not! We had to go some to
quiet things down. In those days, boy, a matter of that sort was more
serious than killing a man."
"Which name did she keep?" asked a friend of Rafael.
"Leonora, as her father wished. That girl always took after the old man.
Just as queer as he was. The Doctor all over again! I haven't seen her
yet. They say she's a stunning beauty, like her mother, who was a
blonde, and the handsomest girl in all these parts. When the Doctor had
dressed his wife up like a lady, she wasn't much for manners, but she
certainly was something to look at...."
"And what became of Moreno?" asked another. "Is it true, as they said
years ago, that he shot himself?"
"Oh, some say one thing, some another. Perhaps it's all a lie. Who
knows! It all happened so far away.... After the Republic fell, it was
the turn of decent people again. Poor Moreno took it all harder than he
did the death of his Teresa, and kept himself locked up in his house day
in, day out. Your father was stronger than before and we ran things in a
way that was a sight for sore eyes! Don Antonio up in Madrid gave orders
to the Governors to give us a free hand in cleaning up everything that
was left of the Revolution. The people who before had been cheering for
the Doctor all the time, now kept away from him for fear we should catch
them. Some afternoons he would go for a walk in the suburbs, or a stroll
over to his sister's orchard, near the river--always with Leonora at his
side. She was now about eleven years old. All his affection was centered
on her. Poor Doctor! How things had changed from the days when his mobs
would meet the troops shot for shot in the streets of Alcira, shouting
_vivas_ for the Federal Republic!... In his solitude and in all the
dejection coming from the defeat of his perverted ideas, he took more
than ever to music. He had but one joy left him. Leonora loved music as
much as he. She learned her lessons rapidly; and soon could accompany
her father's violoncello on the piano. They would spend the days playing
together, going through the whole pile of music sheets they kept stored
in the attic along with those accursed medical books. Besides, the
little girl showed she had a voice, and it seemed to grow fuller and
more beautiful every day. 'She will be a singer, a great singer,' her
father proclaimed enthusiastically. And when some tenant of his or one
of his dependents came into the house and could hardly believe his ears
at the sweetness of the little angel's voice, the Doctor would rub his
hands and gleefully exclaim: 'What do you think of the little lady,
eh?... Some day people in Alcira will be proud she was born here.'"
Don Andres paused to sift his recollections, and after a long silence
"The truth is, I can't tell you any more. At that time, we were in power
again, and I had very little to do with the Doctor. We gradually lost
sight of him, forgot him, practically. The music we heard when going by
the house was all there was to remind us of him. We learned one day,
through his sister, dona Pepa, that he had gone way off with the little
girl somewhere--what was that city you visited, Rafael?--Milan, yes,
Milan, that's it! I've been told that's the market for singers. He
wanted his Leonora to become a prima donna. He never came back, poor
fellow!... Things must have gone badly with them. Every year he would
write home to his sister to sell another piece of land. It is known that
over there they lived in real poverty. In a few years the little fortune
the Doctor got from his parents was gone. Poor dona Pepa, kind old soul,
even disposed of the house--which belonged half to the Doctor and half
to her--sent him every cent of the money, and moved to the orchard. Ever
since then she's been coming in to mass and to Forty Hours in all sorts
of weather. I could learn nothing for certain after that. People lie so,
you see. Some say poor Moreno shot himself because his daughter left him
when she got placed on the stage; others say that he died like a dog in
a poorhouse. The only sure thing is that he died and that his daughter
went on having a great time all over those countries over there. The
way she went it! They even say she had a king or two. As for money! Say,
boys, there are ways and ways of earning it, and ways and ways of
spending it! The fellow who knows all about that side of her is the
barber Cupido. He imagines he's an artist, because he plays the guitar;
and besides he has a Republican grouch, and was a great admirer of her
father's. He's the only one in town who followed all she was up to, in
the papers. They say she doesn't sing under her own name, but uses some
prettier sounding one--foreign, I believe. Cupido is a regular busybody
and you can get all the latest news in his barbershop. Only yesterday he
went to dona Pepa's farmhouse to greet the '_eminent artist_,' as he
calls her. There's no end to what he tells. Trunks in every corner,
enough to pack a house-full of things into, and silk dresses ...
shopfuls of them! Hats, I can't say how many; jewelry-boxes on every
table with diamonds that strike you blind. And she told Cupido to have
the station-agent get a move on and send what was still missing--the
heavier luggage--boxes and boxes that come from way off somewhere--the
other end of the world, and that cost a fortune just to ship.... There
you are!... And why not? The way she earned it!"
Don Andres winking maliciously and laughing like an old faun, gave a sly
nudge at Rafael, who was listening in deep abstraction to the story.
"But is she going to live on here?" asked the young man. "Accustomed as
she is to flitting about the world, do you think she'll be able to stand
"Nobody can tell," don Andres replied. "Not even Cupido can find that
out. She'll stay until she gets bored, he says. And to be in less danger
of that, she has brought her whole establishment along on her back, like
"Well, she'll be bored soon enough," one of Rafael's friends observed.
"I suppose she thinks she's going to be admired and stared at as she was
abroad! Moreno's girl! Did you ever hear of such a family?... Daughter
of that _descamisado_, as my father calls him because he died without a
stitch on his back! And all people say of them! Last night her arrival
was the subject of conversation in every decent home in town, and there
wasn't a man who did not promise to fight shy of her. If she thinks
Alcira is anything like the places where they dance the razzle-dazzle
and there's no shame, she'll be sadly disappointed."
Don Andres laughed slyly.
"Yes, boys! She'll be disappointed. There's a plenty of morality in this
town, and much wholesome fear of scandal. We're probably as bad as
people in other places, but we don't want anybody to find us out. I'm
afraid this Leonora is going to spend most of her time with her aunt--a
silly old thing, whatever her many virtues may be. They say she's
brought a French maid along.... But she's beginning to cry 'sour grapes'
already. Do you know what she said to Cupido yesterday? That she had
come here with the idea of living all by herself, just to get away from
people; and when the barber spoke to her of society in Alcira, she made
a wry face, as much as to say the place was filled with no-accounts.
That's what the women were talking most about last night. You can see
why! She has always been the favorite of so many big guns!"
An idea seemed to flit across the wrinkled forehead of don Andres,
tracing a wicked smile around his lips:
"You know what I think, Rafael? You're young and you're handsome, and
you've been abroad. Why don't you make a try for her, if only to prick
the bubble of her conceit and show her there are people here, too. They
say she's mighty good-looking, and, what the deuce! It wouldn't be so
hard. When she finds out who you are!..."
The old man said this with the idea of flattering Rafael, certain that
the prestige of his "prince" was such that no woman could resist him.
But Rafael had lived through the previous afternoon, and the words
seemed very bitter pills. Don Andres at once grew serious, as if a
frightful vision had suddenly passed before his eyes; and he added in a
"But no: that was only a jest. Don't pay any attention to what I say.
Your mother would be terribly provoked."
The thought of dona Bernarda, the personification of austere,
uncompromising virtue, chased the mirth from every face in the company.
"The strange thing about all this," said Rafael, who was anxious to turn
the conversation in a different direction, "is that now everybody
remembers the Doctor's daughter. But years and years went by without her
name being mentioned, in my hearing at least."
"Well, it's a question of District matters, you see," the old man
answered. "All I've been telling you boys, happened long before your
day, and your parents, who knew the Doctor and his daughter, have always
been careful not to bring this woman into their conversation; for, as
Rafael's mother says, she's the disgrace of Alcira. From time to time we
got a bit of news; something that Cupido fished out of the newspapers
and spread all over town, or something that that silly dona Pepa would
let drop, while telling inquisitive people about the glories her niece
was winning abroad; anyhow, all a heap of lies that were invented I
don't know where or by whom. They kept all that quiet, banking the fire,
so to speak. If it hadn't got into the girl's head to come back to
Alcira, you would never have heard of her probably. But now she's here,
and they're telling all they know, or think they know, about her life,
digging up tales of things that happened years and years ago. You take
my word for it, boys, I've always considered her a high-flyer myself,
but, just the same, people here do tell awful whoppers ... and swear to
them. She can't be as bad as they say ... If one were to swallow
everything one hears! Wasn't poor don Ramon the greatest man the
District ever produced? Well, what don't they say about him?..."
And the conversation drifted away from Doctor Moreno's daughter. Rafael
had learned all he wished to know. That woman had been born within a few
hundred yards of his own birthplace. They had passed their childhood
years almost side by side; and yet, on meeting for the first time in
their lives, they had felt themselves complete strangers to each other.
This separation would increase with time. She made fun of the city,
lived outside its circle of influence, in the open country; she would
not meet the town halfway, and the town would not go to her.
How get to know her better, then?... Rafael was tempted as he walked
aimlessly about the streets, to look up the barber Cupido in his shop
that very afternoon. That merry rogue was the only person in all Alcira
who entered her house. But Brull did not dare, for fear of gossip. His
dignity as a party leader forbade his entering that barbershop where the
walls were papered with copies of "Revolution" and where a picture of Pi
y Margall reigned in place of the King's. How could he justify his
presence in a place he had never visited before? How explain to Cupido
his interest in that woman, without having the whole city know about it
Twice he walked up and down in front of the striped window-panes of the
barbershop, without mustering the courage to raise the latch. Finally he
sauntered off toward the orchards, following the riverbank slowly along,
with his gaze fixed on that blue house, which had never before attracted
his attention, but which now seemed the most beautiful detail in that
ample paradise of orange-trees.
Through the groves he could see the balcony of the house, and on it a
woman unfolding shining gowns of delicate colors. She was shaking the
prima donna's skirts to straighten out the wrinkles and the folds caused
by the packing in the trunks.
It was the Italian maid--that Beppa of the reddish hair whom he had seen
the previous afternoon with her mistress.
He thought the girl was looking at him, and that she even recognized
him through the foliage, despite the distance. He felt a sudden
timorousness, like a child caught redhanded doing something wrong. He
turned in his tracks and strode rapidly off toward the city.
But later, he felt quite comforted. Merely to have approached the Blue
House seemed like progress toward acquaintance with the beautiful
All work had stopped on the rich lands of the _ribera_.
The first winter rains were falling over the entire District. Day after
day the gray sky, heavy with clouds, seemed to reach down and touch the
very tops of the trees. The reddish soil of the fields grew dark under
the continuous downpour; the roads, winding deep between the mudwalls
and the fences of the orchards, were changed to rushing streams. The
weeping orange-trees seemed to shrink and cringe under the deluge, as if
in aggrieved protest at the sudden anger of that kindly, friendly land
The Jucar was rising. The waters, turned to so much liquid clay, lashed
red and slimy against the buttresses of the bridges. People living along
the banks followed the swelling of the river with anxious eyes, studying
the markers placed along the shores to note how the water was coming up.
_"Munta?"_ ... asked the people from the interior, in their quaint
_"Munta!"_ answered the river dwellers.
And the water was indeed slowly rising, already threatening the city
that had so audaciously taken root in the very middle of its bed.
But despite the danger, the townspeople seemed to be feeling nothing
more than uneasy curiosity. No one thought of moving across the bridges
to take refuge on the high land. Nonsense! The Jucar was always
flooding. You had to expect something of the sort every once in a while.
Thank heaven there was something to break the monotony of life in that
sleepy town! Why complain at a week's vacation? It was hard to disturb
the placid complacency of those descendants of the Moors. Floods had
been coming since the days of their fathers, their grandfathers and
their great-grandfathers, and never had the town been carried off. A few
houses at the worst. Why suppose the catastrophe would be due now?...
The Jucar was a sort of husband to Alcira. As happens in any decent
family, there would be a quarrel now and then--a thrashing followed by
kisses and reconciliation. Just imagine--living seven or eight centuries
together! Besides,--and this the lesser people thought--there was Father
San Bernardo, as powerful as God Himself in all that concerned Alcira.
He was able, single-handed, to tame the writhing monster that wound its
coiling way underneath the bridges.
It rained day and night; and yet the city, from its animation, seemed to
be having a holiday. The young ones, sent home from school because of
the bad weather, were all on the bridges throwing branches into the
water to see how swift the current was, or playing along the lanes close
to the river, planting sticks in the banks and waiting for the
ever-broadening torrent to reach them.
Under the shelter of the projecting eaves, whence broken water-spouts
were belching streams as thick as a man's arm, loungers in the cafes
would slip along the streets toward the river-front; and after glancing
at the flood from the scant protection of their umbrellas, would make
their way proudly back, stopping in every drinking place to offer their
opinions on the rise that had taken place since their previous
The city from end to end was one seething storm of heated, typically
"Southern" argument and prophecy. Friendships were being made and
broken, over questions as to whether the river had risen four inches the
past hour, or only one, and as to whether this freshet were more
important than the one five years before.
Meantime the sky kept on weeping through its countless eyes; the river,
roaring more wrathful every moment, was now licking at the ends of the
low-lying streets near the bank, creeping up into the gardens on the
shore, stealing in between the orange-trees, opening holes in the hedges
and the mudwalls.
The main concern of the populace was whether it were raining also in the
mountains of Cuenca. If much water came down from there, the flood would
become serious. And experienced eyes studied the color of the waters
carefully. If there was any black in them, it meant they came from the
The cloud-burst lasted for two whole days. The night of the second day
closed, and the roar of the river sounded forebodingly in the darkness.
On its black surface lights could be seen reflected like restless
flashes of flame--candles from the shore houses and lanterns of watchmen
on guard along the banks.
In the lower streets the water was coming under the doors into the
houses. Women and children were taking refuge in the garrets while the
men, with their trousers rolled up to their knees, were splashing about
in the liquid silt, carrying their farming tools to places of safety, or
tugging at some donkey who would be balking at going too deep into the
All these people of the suburbs, on finding their houses flooded in the
darkness of night, lost the jesting calm which they had so boastfully
displayed during the daytime. Now fear of the supernatural came over
them, and with childish anxiety they sought protection of some Higher
Power to avert the danger. Perhaps this freshet was the final one!
Perhaps they were the victims destined to perish in the final downfall
of the city!... Women began to shriek with terror on seeing their
wretched lanes converted into deep canals.
"_El pare San Bernat!... Que traguen al pare San Bernat_! Father Saint
Bernard!... Let them fetch father Saint Bernard!"
The men looked at each other uneasily. Nobody could handle a matter like
this so well as the glorious patron. It was now high time to have
recourse to him, as had so often been done before, and get him to
perform his miracle.
They ought to go to the City Council, and compel the big guns there, in
spite of their scepticism, to bring the saint out for the consolation of
In an hour a veritable army was formed. Mobs issued from the dark lanes,
paddling in the water like frogs, and raising their war-cry: "_San
Bernat! San Bernat_!"; the men, with their sleeves and trousers rolled
up, or even entirely naked save for the sash that is never removed from
the skin of a Valencian peasant; the women, with their skirts raised
over their heads for protection, sinking their tanned, skinny,
over-worked legs into the slime, and all drenched from head to foot, the
wet clothes sticking to their bodies; and at the head, a number of
strong young men with four-wicked tapers lighted, sputtering and
crackling in the rain and casting a weird flickering radiance back over
the clamoring multitude.
"_San Bernat! San Bernat!... Viva el pare San Bernat!_ Father Saint
Under the drizzle pouring from the sky and the streams tumbling from the
eavespouts, the mob rushed along through the streets in a wild riot.
Doors and windows flew open, and new voices were added to the delirious
uproar, while at every crossing recruits would come to swell the
on-rushing avalanche headed for the _Ayuntamiento_. Muskets, ancient
blunderbusses, and horse-pistols as big as guns, could be seen in the
menacing throng, as though those wild forms were to compel the granting
of a petition that might be denied, or to slay the river, perhaps.
The _alcalde_, with all the members of the council, was waiting at the
door of the City Hall. They had come running to the place, marshalling
the _alguacils_ and the patrols, to face and quell the mutiny.
"What do you want?" the Mayor asked the crowd.
What did they want! They wanted the one remedy, the one salvation, for
the city: they wanted to take the omnipotent saint to the bank of the
river that he might awe it with his presence, just as their ancestors
had been doing for centuries and centuries, and thanks to which the city
was still standing!
Some of the city people, whom the peasants regarded as atheists, began
to smile at the strange request. Wouldn't it be better to spend the time
getting all the valuables out of the houses on the bank? A tempest of
protests followed this proposal. "Out with the saint! Out with _San
Bernat!_ We want the miracle! The miracle!" Those simple people were
thinking of the wonders they had learned in their childhood at their
mothers' knees; times in former centuries, when it had been enough for
San Bernardo to appear on a river road, to start the flood down again,
draining off from the orchard lands as water leaks from a broken
The _alcalde_, a liegeman of the Brull dynasty, was in a quandary. He
was afraid of that ugly mob and was anxious to yield, as usual; but it
would be a serious breach of etiquette not to consult "the chief."
Fortunately, just as the huge, dark mass of human beings was beginning
to surge in indignation at his silence, and hisses and shouts of anger
were being raised, Rafael appeared.
Dona Bernarda had sent him out at the first sign of uneasiness in the
populace. It was in circumstances such as these that her husband used to
shine, taking the helm in every crisis, giving orders and settling
questions, though to no avail at all. But when the river returned to its
normal level, and danger was past, the peasant would remember don
Ramon's "sacrifices" and call him the father of the poor. If the
miraculous saint must come out, let Rafael be the one to produce him!
The elections were at hand. The flood could not have come in better
time. There must be no false steps, no frightening opportunity away.
Something rather must be done to get people to talking about him as they
used to talk about his father on similar occasions.
So Rafael, after having the purpose of this demonstration explained to
him by the most ardent of the leaders, gave a magnificent gesture of
"Granted; have _San Bernat_ brought out!"
With a thunder of applause and _vivas_ for young Brull, the black
avalanche headed rumbling for the church.
They must now persuade the curate to take the saint out, and that good
priest--a fat, kindly, but rather shrewd fellow--always objected to what
he called a bit of old-fashioned mummery. The truth was he looked
forward with little pleasure to a tramp out in the rain at the head of a
procession, trying to keep dry under an umbrella, with his _soutane_
rolled up to his knees, and his shoes coming off at every step in the
mire. Besides, some day, in the very face of San Bernardo, the river
might carry half the city off, and then what a fix, what a fix, religion
would be in, all on account of those disturbers of the peace!
Rafael and his henchmen of the _Ayuntamiento_ tried their hardest to
convince the curate; but his only reply was to ask whether water was
coming down from Cuenca.
"I believe it is," said the _alcalde_. "You can see that makes the
danger worse. It's more than ever necessary to bring out the saint."
"Well, if there's water coming down from Cuenca," the priest answered,
"we'd better let it come, and San Bernardo also had better keep
indoors, at home. Matters concerning saints must be treated with great
discretion, take my word for that.... And, if you don't agree with me,
just remember that freshet when the river got above the bridges. We
brought the saint out, and the river almost carried him off downstream."
The crowd, growing restless at the delay, began to shout against the
priest. The good sense of that canny churchman was powerless in the face
of superstitions instilled by centuries of fanaticism.
"Since you will it so, so let it be," he said gravely. "Let the Saint
come forth, and may the Lord have mercy on us!"
A frenzied acclamation burst from the crowd, which now filled the whole
square in front of the church. The rain continued falling, and above the
serried ranks of heads covered with skirts, cloaks, and an occasional
umbrella, the flames of the tapers flickered, staining the wet faces
The people smiled happily in all their discomfort from the downpour.
Confident of success, they were foretasting gleefully the terror of the
stream at sight of the blessed image entering its waters. What could not
San Bernardo do? His marvelous history, a blend of Moorish and Christian
romance, flamed in all those credulous imaginations. He was a saint
native to that region--the second son of the Moorish king of Carlet.
Through his talent, courtesy and beauty he won such success at court in
Valencia, that he rose to the post of prime minister.
Once when his sovereign had to have some dealings with the king of
Aragon, he sent San Bernardo, who at that time was called Prince Hamete,
to Barcelona. During his journey he drew up one night at the portal of
the monastery of Poblet. The chants of the Cistercians, drifting
mystical and vague through the Gothic arches, moved the Saracen youth to
the bottom of his soul. He felt drawn to the religion of his enemies by
the magic of its poetry. He received baptism, assumed the white habit of
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and later returned to the kingdom of
Valencia to preach Christianity. There he enjoyed the tolerance Saracen
monarchs always had for new religious doctrines. He converted his two
sisters--beautiful Mooresses they were--and they took the names of
Gracia and Maria, and aflame in turn with pious fervor, they chose to go
with their brother on his tour of preachment.
But the old king of Carlet had died, and his first-born--the arrogant
Almanzor, a brutal, vainglorious Moor--succeeded to the rulership of the
tiny state--a sort of military satrapy. This haughty potentate, offended
in his magnificence to see members of his family traveling over the
roads dressed like vagabonds and preaching a religion of beggars, called
a troop of horse and set out in pursuit of his brother and sisters. He
came upon them near Alcira, hiding on the riverbank. With one slash of
his sword he cut the heads off both his sisters; San Bernardo he
crucified and drove a big nail through his forehead. Thus the sacred
preacher perished, but all the humble continued to adore him; for here
was a handsome prince, who had turned to a poor man, become a wandering
mendicant even--a sacrifice that endeared him to the poorest of his
votaries. Of all this that crowd of peasants was thinking as it shouted
_vivas_ to San Bernardo, now, surely, prime minister of God, as he had
been of the pagan king of Valencia.
The procession was rapidly organized. Along the narrow lanes of the
island where the rain coursed in streams, people kept coming in droves.
They were barefoot for the most part, but some were sinking shoes
indifferently into the water. Most of them had tapers or shotguns. The
women did their best to shelter little ones under the skirts they had
gathered about their heads. The musicians, all barefoot, were in regular
uniform--gold braided jackets and plumed hats--looking for all the world
like Malay chiefs who beautify their nakedness with castoff coats and
three-cornered hats the missionaries give them.
In front of the church the lights of the tapers blended into one great
flare. Through the wide doorway the candles on the altars gleamed like a
The whole neighborhood, almost, had assembled in the square, despite the
increasing rain. Many had come to scoff. What a farce it all would be!
They did well, however, to wait two days! The rain was almost over. It
would probably stop by the time they got the Saint out!
In double file of tapers the procession began to move between two lines
of tightly jammed spectators.
"_Vitol el pare San Bernat!_ Hurrah for father San Bernardo!" a
multitude of hoarse voices cried.
"_Vitol les chermanetes_! Hurrah for his sisters!" others added, to
correct the lack of gallantry displayed by the most enthusiastic of the
idolators in putting ladies last.
For the sisters, the holy martyrs, Gracia and Maria, also figured in
the procession. San Bernardo never went anywhere alone. As even children
in baby-school knew, not a power on earth, not all the men and horses in
the orchards put together, could lift the saint from his altar unless
his sisters went first. That was one of his miracles long accredited by
tradition. He had very little confidence in women--less pious
commentators said--and not willing to trust his sisters out of sight, he
insisted that they precede him whenever he left his pedestal.
The holy sisters appeared in the church doorway, swaying on their
litters above the heads of the worshippers.
"_Vitol les chermanetes!_"
And the poor _chermanetes_, dripping from every fold of their vestments,
came out into that dark, tempestuous, rain-soaked atmosphere that was
rent by sheaves of crude light from the tapers.
The musicians tuned their instruments, ready to break into the Royal
March! In the brilliantly lighted doorway something shining could be
seen laboriously advancing, swaying this way and that, as if the waves
of an angry sea were rocking it.
The crowd again began to cheer, and the music sounded.
"_Vitol el pare San Bernat!_"
But the music and the acclamations were drowned by a deafening crash, as
if the island had suddenly burst into a thousand pieces, dragging the
city to the depths of the Abyss. The square was shooting a fusillade of
lightning flashes, a veritable cannonade. Those ancient arms,
blunderbusses, muzzle-loaders, pistols, crammed full of powder, could
roar like artillery. All the guns in the neighborhood were saluting the
appearance of the Saint. And the crowd, drunk with the smell of powder,
began to shout and gesticulate in the presence of that bronze image,
whose round, kindly face--that of a healthy well-fed friar--seemed to
quiver with life in the light of the torches.
Eight strong men, almost naked, came forward staggering under the weight
of the metal saint. The crowd surged against them, threatening to upset
the statue. But two bare-breasted strong-armed boys, devotees of the
patron, were marching on either side, and they fought the multitude
The women, shoved hither and thither and almost suffocated in the jam,
burst into tears as their gaze fell upon the miraculous image.
"_Ay_, father San Bernardo! Father San Bernardo! Save us! Save us!"
Others dragged children out from the folds of their skirts, and held
them out above their heads toward the powerful guards.
"Lift him up! Let him kiss the Saint!"
And those muscular peasants would pick the children up like dolls, now
by an arm, now by a leg, now by the nape of the neck, raise them to a
level with the saint, that they might kiss the bronze face, and then
toss them back into the arms of their mothers, working like automatons,
dropping one child to seize another, with the regularity of machines in
action. Many times the impact was too rough; the noses of the children
would flatten against the folds of the metallic garb; but the fervor of
the crowd seemed to infect the little ones. They were the future adorers
of the Moorish monk. Rubbing their bruises with their soft little hands
they would swallow their tears and return to their snug places in their
Behind the glorious saint marched Rafael and the gentlemen of the
_Ayuntamiento_ with long wax tapers; and after them the curate,
grumbling as he heard the first dashes of rain beat on the large red
silk umbrella which the sacristan held over him, and felt the impact of
the crowd of orchard-folk, that was mixed at random with the musicians.
The latter, paying more attention to where they stepped than to their
instruments, played a rather discordant march. Guns, meanwhile,
continued to blaze away. The wild cheering for San Bernardo and his
sisters went on; and, framed in a red nimbus of torch-light, greeted at
every street-corner by a new fusillade, the image sailed along over that
sea of heads, pelted by the rain, which, in the light of the candles,
looked like a maze of transparent crystal threads. Around the saint the
arms of the athletes kept ever moving, lifting children up to bump their
drooling noses on the bronze of father San Bernardo. Balconies and
windows along the way were filled with women, their heads protected by
Sighs, wails, exclamations of entreaty welcomed the passing saint in a
chorus of despair and hope.
"Save us, father San Bernardo!... Save us!..."
The procession reached the river, crossing and recrossing the bridges
that led to the suburbs. The flickering torches were mirrored in the
dark edges of the stream, which was growing momentarily more terrifying
and clamorous. The water had not yet reached the railing, as at other
times. Miracle! San Bernardo was at work already!
Then the procession marched to points where the river had flooded the
lanes near the bank, and turned them to virtual ponds. The more
fanatical of the devotees, lifting their tapers above their heads, went
out fearlessly neck high into the water: for surely the Saint must not
go in alone.
One old man, shaking with malaria, caught in the rice-fields, and hardly
able to hold the taper in his trembling hands, hesitated at the brink of
"Go on in, _agueelo_!" the women encouraged affectionately. "Father San
Bernardo will cure you. Don't lose such a chance!"
When the saint was out performing miracles, he might remember the old
man, too. So _agueelo_--"grandaddy"--shivering in his drenched clothes
and his teeth chattering, walked resolutely in.
The statue was making its way very slowly along the inundated streets,
for the feet of the bearers sank deep into the water under their load;
and they could advance at all only with the aid of the faithful, who
gathered about the litter on all sides to help. A writhing mass of bare,
sinewy arms rose from the water like tentacles of a human octopus to
carry the Saint along.
Just behind the image came the curate and the political dignitaries,
riding astride the shoulders of some enthusiasts who, for the greater
pomp of the ceremony, were willing to serve as mounts, though the tapers
of their riders kept getting into their faces.
The curate began to feel the cold water creeping up his back, and
ordered the Saint inshore again. In fact San Bernardo was already at
the end of the lane, and actually in the river itself. His guards of
honor were having a time of it to keep their feet in the face of the
current, but they were still willing to go on, believing that the
farther the statue went into the stream, the sooner the waters would go
down. At last, however, the most foolhardy withdrew. The Saint came
back. Though the procession at once went on to the next road and to the
next, repeating the same performance.
And suddenly it stopped raining.
A wild cheer, a shout of joy and triumph, shook the multitude.
"_Vitol el pare San Bernat_!..." Now would the people of the neighboring
towns dare dispute his immense power?... There was the proof! Two days
of incessant downpour, and then, the moment the Saint showed his face
out of doors--fair weather! Excuse me!
In fervent thanksgiving weeping women rushed upon the saint and began to
kiss whatever part of the image was within reach--the handles of the
litter, the decorations of the pedestal, the bronze body itself. The
tottering structure of wood and metal began to stagger and reel like a
frail bark tossing over a sea of shrieking heads and extended arms that
trembled with exaltation.
The procession marched on for more than an hour still along the river.
Then the priest, who was dripping wet and had exhausted more than a
dozen "horses" under him, forbade it to continue. Leave it to those
peasants, and the nonsense would go on till dawn! So the curate observed
that the Saint had already done what was required of him. Now it was
time to go home!
Rafael handed his taper to one of his henchmen and stopped on the bridge
with a number of experienced observers, who were lamenting the damage
done by the flood. At every moment, no one could say just how, alarming
reports of the destruction wrought by the river were coming in. Now a
mill had been isolated by the waters, and the people there had taken
refuge on the roof, firing their shotguns as signals of distress. Many
orchards had been completely submerged. The few boats available in the
city were doing the best they could in the work of rescue. The valley
had become one vast lake. Rowboats caught in the shifting currents were
in danger of smashing against hidden obstructions; and it was
practically impossible to push a punt upstream with oars.
Yet the people spoke with relative calmness. They were accustomed to
this almost annual visitation, and accepted it resignedly as an
inevitable evil. Besides, they referred hopefully to telegrams received
by the _alcalde_. By dawn help would be coming in. The governor in
Valencia was sending a detachment of marines, and the lagoon would be
filled with navy boats. Everything would be all right in a few hours.
But if the water got much higher meanwhile ...!
They consulted stakes and other water marks along the river, and violent
disputes arose. Rafael, for his part, could see the flood was still
rising, though but slowly.
The peasants refused to believe it. How could the river rise after
Father San Bernardo had gone into it? No, sir! it was _not_ rising. That
was all a lie intended to discredit the patron. And a sturdy youth with
flashing eyes threatened to disembowel with one stroke of his
knife--like that!--a certain scoffer who maintained that the river would
go on rising if only for the pleasure of refuting that charlatan of a
Rafael approached the brawlers, and by the dim lantern light recognized
Cupido--the barber--a sarcastic fellow, with curly side-whiskers and an
aquiline nose, who took great pleasure in poking fun at the barbarous,
unshakable faith of the illiterate peasants.
Brull knew the barber very well. The man was one of his childhood
favorites. Fear of his mother was the only thing that had kept him from
frequenting Cupido's shop--the rendezvous of the city's gayest set, a
hotbed of gossip and practical jokes, a school of guitar playing and
love songs that kept the whole neighborhood astir. Besides, Cupido was
the freak of the city, the sharp-tongued but irresponsible practical
joker, who was forgiven everything in advance, and could enjoy his
idiosyncrasies and speak his mind about people without starting a riot
against him. He was, for instance, the one person in Alcira who scoffed
at the tyranny of the Brulls without thereby losing entrance to the
Party Club, where the young men admired his wit and his eccentric way of
Rafael was still fond of Cupido, though not very intimate with him. In
all the sedate, conservative world around him, the barber seemed the
only person really worth while talking with. Cupido was almost an
artist. In winter he would go to Valencia to hear the operas praised by
the newspapers, and in one corner of his shop he had heaps of novels and
illustrated magazines, much mildewed and softened by the damp, and their
leaves worn through from continual thumbing by customers.
He had very little to do with Rafael, guessing that the youth's mother
would not regard such a friendship with any too much favor; but he
displayed a certain liking for the boy; and addressed him familiarly,
having known him as a child. Of Rafael he said everywhere:
"He's the best one in the family; the only Brull with more brains than
Nothing too small for Cupido to notice ever happened in Alcira. Every
weakness, every foible of the city's celebrities was made public by him
in his barbershop, to the delight of the Opposition, whose members
gathered there to read their party organ. The gentlemen of the
_Ayuntamiento_ feared the barber more than any ten newspapers combined,
and whenever some famous Conservative minister referred in parliament to
a "revolutionary hydra" or a "hotbed of anarchy," they pictured to
themselves a barbershop like that of Cupido, but much larger perhaps,
scattering a poisonous atmosphere of cruel gibe and perverse effrontery
all through the nation.
The barber was inevitably on hand where anything was going on. It might
be at the very end of the suburbs, or away out in the country. In a few
moments Cupido would put in an appearance to learn all about it, give
advice to those who might need it, arbitrate between disputants and
afterward tell the whole story with a thousand embellishments.
He had plenty of time on his hands for leading such a life. Two young
fellows, as crazy as their employer, tended shop. Cupido paid them with
music-lessons and meals--better or worse these latter, according to the
day's receipts, which were divided fraternally among the three. And if
the "boss" sometimes astonished the city by going out for a walk in
midwinter in a suit of white duck, they, not to be outdone, would shave
off their hair and eyebrows and show heads as smooth as billiard-balls
behind the shop windows, to the great commotion of the city, which would
flock _en masse_ to see "Cupido's Chinamen."
A flood was always a great day for the barber. He closed shop and
planted himself out on a bridge, oblivious to wind and rain, haranguing
the crowds of spectators, terrifying the stupid with his exaggerations
and inventions, and announcing hair-raising news which he asserted he
had just received from the Governor by telegraph, and according to
which, in two hours, there would not be a cellar-hole left of the place.
Even the miracle-working San Bernardo would be washed into the sea!
When Rafael found him upon the bridge that night, after the procession,
Cupido was on the point of coming to blows with several rustics, who had
grown indignant at his heresies.
Stepping aside from the crowd, the two began a conversation about the
dangers of the flood. Cupido, as usual, was well-informed. He had been
told a poor old man had been cut off in an orchard and drowned. That was
probably not the only accident that had taken place. Horses and pigs in
large numbers had drifted past under the bridge, early in the afternoon.
The barber talked earnestly and with some sadness, it seemed. Rafael
listened in silence, scanning his face anxiously, as if looking for a
chance to speak of something which he dared not broach.
"And how about the Blue House," he ventured finally, "that farm of dona
Pepa's where you go sometimes? Will anything be wrong down there?"
"It's a good solid place," the barber replied, "and this isn't the first
flood it's been through.... But it's right on the river, and by this
time the garden must be a lake; the water will surely be up to the
second story. I'll bet dona Pepa's poor niece is scared out of her
wits... Just imagine--coming from so far away and from such pretty
places, and running into a mess like this ..."
Rafael seemed to meditate for a moment. Then as if an idea that had been
dancing about in his head all day had just occurred to him, he said:
"Suppose we take a run down there!... What do you say, Cupido?"
"Down there!... And how'll we get there?"
But the proposal, from its very rashness, was bound to appeal to a man
like the barber, who at length began to laugh, as if the adventure were
a highly amusing one.
"You're right! We could get through! It will look funny, all right! Us
two paddling up like a couple of Venetian gondoliers to serenade a
celebrated prima donna in her fright ... I've a good mind to run home
and fetch my guitar along ..."
"What the devil, Cupido! No guitar business! What a josher you are! Our
job is to get those women out of there. They'll get drowned if we
The barber, insisting on his romantic idea, fixed a pair of shrewd eyes
"I see! So you're interested in the illustrious _artiste_, too ... You
rascal! You're smitten on her reputation for good looks ... But no ... I
remember ... you've seen her; she told me so herself."
"She!... She spoke to you about me?"
"Oh, nothing important! She told me she saw you one afternoon up at the
Cupido kept the rest to himself. He did not say that Leonora, on
mentioning Rafael's name, had added that he looked like an "idiot."
Rafael's heart leaped with joy! She had talked of him! She had not
forgotten that meeting which had left such a painful memory in him!...
What was he doing, then, standing like a fool there on that bridge, when
down at the Blue House they might be needing a man's help?
"Listen, Cupido; I have my boat right handy here; you know, the boat
father had made to order in Valencia as a present for me. Steel frame;
hard wood; safe as a warship. You know the river ... I've seen you
handle an oar more than once; and I've got a pair of arms myself ...
What do you say?"
"I say, let's go," the barber answered resolutely.
They asked for a torch, and with the help of several men dragged
Rafael's boat toward a stairway on the riverbank.
Above, through the crowds on the bridge, the news of the expedition
flashed, but exaggerated and much idealized by the curious. The men were
going to save a poor family that had taken refuge on the roof of a
house--poor devils in danger of being swept off at any moment. Rafael
had learned of their plight, and he was starting to save them at the
risk of his own skin. And a wealthy, powerful man like him, with so much
to live for! Damn it, those Brulls were all men, anyhow!... And yet see
how people talked against them! What a heart! And the peasants followed
the blood-red glow of the torch in the boat as it mirrored across the
waters, gazing adoringly at Rafael, who was sitting in the stern. Out of
the dark entreating voices called. Many loyal followers of the Brulls
were eager to go with the chief--drown with him, if need be.
Cupido protested. No; for a job like that, the fewer the better; the
boat had to be light; he would do for the oars and Rafael could steer.
"Let her go! Let her go!" called Rafael.
And the boat, after hesitating a second, shot off on the current.
In the narrow gorge between the Old City and the New, the swollen
torrent swept them along like lightning. The barber used his oars just
to keep the boat away from the shore. Submerged rocks sent great
whirlpools to the surface and pulled the boat this way and that. The
light of the torch cast a dull reddish glow out over the muddy eddies.
Tree trunks, refuse, dead animals, went floating by, shapeless masses
with only a few dark points visible above the surface, as though some
dead man covered with mud were swimming under water. Out on that
swirling current, with the slimy vapors of the river rising to his
nostrils and the eddies sucking and boiling all around, Rafael thought
himself the victim of a weird nightmare and began even to repent of his
rashness. Cries kept coming from houses close to the river; windows were
suddenly lighted up; and from them great shadowy arms like the wings of
a windmill waved in greeting to that red flame which people saw gliding
past along the river, bringing the outlines of the boat and the two men
into distinct view. The news of their expedition had spread throughout
the city and people were on the watch for them as they sped by: "_Viva_
don Rafael! _Viva_ Brull!"
But the hero who was risking his life to save a family of poor folks out
there in the darkness of that sticky, murky, sepulchral night, had in
mind only one thing--a blue house, into which he was to penetrate at
last, in so strange and romantic a fashion.
From time to time a scraping sound or a jolt of the boat would bring him
back to reality.
"Your tiller there!" Cupido would shout, without, however, taking his
eyes from the water ahead. "Look out, Rafaelito, or we'll get smashed!"
The boat was indeed a good one, for any other, would long before have
come to grief in those rapids jammed with rocks and debris.
They were around the city in no time. Few lighted windows were now to be
seen. High, steep banks of slippery mud--quite unscalable--crested with
walls, were slipping past on either hand, with an occasional palisade,
the piles just emerging from the water. Somewhat ahead, the open river,
where the two arms that girt the Old City reunited in what was now a
The two men went on blindly. All normal landmarks were gone. The banks
had disappeared, and in the blackness, beyond the red circle of torch
light, they could make out only water and then more water--an immense
incessantly rolling sheet that was taking them they knew not where. From
time to time a black spot would show above the muddy surface; the crest
of some submerged canebrake; the top of a tree; a strange, fantastic
vegetation that seemed to be writhing in the gloom. The river, free now
from the gorges and shallows around the city, had ceased its roaring. It
seethed and swirled along in absolute silence, effacing all trace of the
land. The two men felt like a couple of shipwrecked sailors adrift on a
shoreless, sunless ocean, alone save for the reddish flame flickering at
the prow, and the submerged treetops that appeared and vanished rapidly.
"Better begin to row, Cupido," said Rafael. "The current is very strong.
We must be still in the river. Let's turn to the right and see if we can
get into the orchards."
The barber bent to the oars, and the boat, slowly, on account of the
current, came around and headed for a line of tree-tops that peered
above the surface of the flood like seaweed floating on the ocean.
Shortly the bottom began to scrape on invisible obstacles. Entanglements
below were clutching at the keel, and it took some effort occasionally
to get free. The lake was still dark and apparently shoreless, but the
current was not so strong and the surface had stopped rolling. The two
men knew they had reached dead water. What looked like dark, gigantic
mushrooms, huge umbrellas, or lustrous domes, caught the reflection of
the torch, at times. Those were orange-trees. The rescuers were in the
orchards. But in which? How find the way in the darkness? Here and there
the branches were too thick to break through and the boat would tip as
if it were going over. They would back water, make a detour, or try
They were going very slowly for fear of striking something, zig-zagging
meanwhile to avoid snags. As a result they lost direction altogether,
and could no longer say which way the river lay. Darkness and water
everywhere! The submerged orange-trees, all alike, formed complicated
lanes over the inundation, a labyrinth in which they grew momentarily
more confused. They were now rowing about quite aimlessly.
Cupido was perspiring freely, under the hard work. The boat was moving
slower and slower because of the branches catching at the keel.
"This is worse than the river," he murmured. "Rafael, you're facing
forward. Can't you make out any light ahead?"
"Not a one!"
The torch would throw some huge clump of leaves into relief for a
moment. When that was gone, the light would be swallowed up into damp,
thick, empty space.
Thus they wandered about and about the flooded countryside. The barber's
strength had given out and he passed the oars over to Rafael, who was
also nearly exhausted.
How long had they been gone? Were they to stay there forever? And their
minds dulled by fatigue and the sense of being lost, they imagined the
night would never end--that the torch would go out and leave the boat a
black coffin, for their corpses to float in eternally.
Rafael, who was now facing astern suddenly noticed a light on his left.
They were going away from it; perhaps that was the house they had been
so painfully searching for.
"It may be," Cupido agreed. "Perhaps we went by without seeing it, and
now we're downstream, toward the sea.... But even if it is not the Blue
House, what of it? The main thing is to find someone there. That's far
better than wandering around here in the dark. Give me the oars, again
Rafael. If that isn't dona Pepita's place, at least we'll find out where
He pulled the boat around, and gradually they made their way through the
treetops toward the light. They struck several snags, orchard fences,
perhaps, or submerged walls--but the light kept growing brighter.
Finally it had become a large red square across which dark forms were
moving. Over the waters a golden, shimmering wake of light was
The torch from the boat brought out the lines of a broad house with a
low roof that seemed to be floating on the water. It was the upper story
of a building that had been swamped by the inundation. The lower story
was under water. The flood, indeed, was getting closer to the upper
rooms. The balconies and windows looked like landings of a pier in an
"Seems to me as if we'd struck the place," the barber said.
A warm, resonant voice, that of a woman, vibrant, but with a deep,
melodious softness, broke the silence.
"Hey, you in the boat there!... Here, here!"
The voice betrayed no fear. It showed not a trace of emotion.
"Didn't I tell you so I ..." the barber exclaimed. "The very place we
were looking for. Dona Leonora!... It's I! It's I!"
A rippling laugh came out into gloom.
"Why, it's Cupido! It's Cupido!... I can tell him by his voice. Auntie,
auntie! Don't cry any more. Don't be afraid; and stop your praying,
please! Here comes the God of Love in a pearl shallop to rescue us!"
Rafael shrank at the sound of that somewhat mocking voice, which seemed
to people the darkness with brilliantly colored butterflies.
Now in the luminous square of a window he could make out the haughty
profile of a woman among other black forms that were going to and fro
past the light inside, in agreeable surprise at the unexpected visit.
The craft drew up to the balcony. The men rose to their feet and were
able to reach an iron railing. The barber, from the prow, was looking
for something strong where he could make the boat fast.
Leonora was leaning over the balustrade while the light from the torch
lit up the golden helmet of her thick, luxuriant hair. She was trying to
identify that other man down there who had bashfully sat down again in
"You're a real friend, Cupido!... Thank you, thank you, ever and ever
so much. This is one of the favors we never forget.... But who has come
along with you?..."
The barber was already fastening the boat to the iron railing.
"It's don Rafael Brull," he answered slowly. "A gentleman you have met
already, I believe. You must thank him for this visit. The boat is his,
and it was he who got me out on this adventure."
"Oh, thank you, Senor Brull," said Leonora, greeting the man with the
wave of a hand that flashed blue and red from the rings on its fingers.
"I must repeat what I said to our friend Cupido. Come right in, and I
hope you'll excuse my introducing you through a second-story window."
Rafael had jumped to his feet and was answering her greeting with an
awkward bow, clasping the iron railing in order not to fall. Cupido
jumped into the house and was followed by the young man, who took pains
to make the climb gracefully and sprightly.
He was not sure how well he succeeded. That had been too much excitement
for a single night: first the wild trip through the gorges near the
city; then those hours of desperate aimless rowing over the winding
lanes of the flooded countryside; and now, all at once, a solid floor
under his feet, a roof over his head, warmth, and the society of that
madly beautiful woman, who seemed to intoxicate him with her perfume,
and whose eyes he did not dare meet with his own for fear of fainting
"Come right in, _caballero_," she said to him. "You surely need
something after this escapade of yours. You are sopping wet, both of
you.... Poor boys! Just look at them!... Beppa!... Auntie! But do come
And she fairly pushed Rafael forward with a sort of maternal
authoritativeness, much as a kindly woman might take her child in hand
after he has done some naughty prank of which she is secretly proud.
The rooms were in disorder. Clothes everywhere and heaps of rustic
furniture that contrasted with the other pieces arranged along the
walls! The household belongings of the gardener had been brought
upstairs as soon as the flood started. An old farmer, his wife--who was
beside herself with fear--and several children, who were slinking in the
corners, had taken refuge in the upper story with the ladies, as soon as
the water began seeping into their humble home.
Rafael entered the dining-room, and there sat dona Pepita, poor old
woman, heaped in an armchair, the wrinkles of her features moistened
with tears and her two hands clutching a rosary. Cupido was trying
vainly to cheer her with jokes about the inundation.
"Look, auntie! This gentleman is the son of your friend, dona Bernarda.
He came over here in a boat to help us out. It was very nice of him,
The old woman seemed quite to have lost her mind from terror. She looked
vacantly at the new arrivals, as if they had been there all their lives.
At last she seemed to realize what they were saying.
"Why, it's Rafael!" she exclaimed in surprise. "Rafaelito.... And you
came to see us in such weather! Suppose you get drowned? What will your
mother say?... Lord, how crazy of you! Lord!"
But it was not madness, and even if it were, it was very sweet of him!
That, at least, was what Rafael seemed to read in those clear, luminous
eyes of the golden sparkles that caressed him with their velvety touch
every time he dared to look at them. Leonora was staring at him:
studying him in the lamplight, as if trying to understand the difference
between the man in front of her and the boy she had met on her walk to
Dona Pepa's spirits rallied now that men were in the house; and with a
supreme effort of will, the old lady decided to leave her armchair for a
look at the flood, which had stopped rising, if, indeed, it were not
"How much water, oh Lord our God!... How many terrible things we'll
learn of tomorrow! This must be a punishment from Heaven ... a warning
to us to think of our many sins."
Leonora meanwhile was bustling busily about, hurrying the refreshments.
Those gentlemen couldn't be left like that--she kept cautioning to her
maid and the peasant woman. Just imagine, with their clothes wet
through! How tired they must be after that all night struggle! Poor
fellows! It was enough just to look at them! And she set biscuits on the
table, cakes, a bottle of rum--everything, including a box of Russian
cigarettes with gilded tips--to the shocked surprise of the gardener's
"Let them come here, auntie," she said to the old lady. "Don't make them
talk any more now.... They need to eat and drink a little, and get
warm.... I'm sorry I have so little to offer you. What in the world can
I get for them? Let's see! Let's see!"
And while the two men were being forced, by that somewhat despotic
attentiveness, to take seats at the table, Leonora and her maid went
into the adjoining room, where keys began to rattle and tops of chests
to rise and fall.
Rafael, in his deep emotion, could scarcely manage a few drops of rum;
but the barber chewed away for all he was worth, downing glass after
glass of liquor, and talking on and on through a mouth crammed with food
while his face grew redder and redder.
When Leonora reappeared, her maid was following her with a great bundle
of clothes in her arms.
"You understand, of course, we haven't a stitch of men's clothes in the
house. But in war-time we get along as best we can, eh? We're in what
you might call a state of siege here."
Rafael noted the dimples that a charming smile traced in those wonderful
cheeks! And what perfect teeth--jewels in a casket of red velvet!
"Now, Cupido; off with those wet things of yours; you're not going to
catch pneumonia on my account, and thus deprive the city of its one
bright spot. Here's something to put on while we are drying your
And she offered the barber a magnificent gown of blue velvet, with
veritable cascades of lace at the breast and on the sleeves.
Cupido nearly fell off his chair.... Was he going to dress in top style
for once in his life? And with those side-whiskers?... How the people in
Alcira would howl if they could only see him now! And entering at once
into the fun of the situation, he hastened into the next room to don his
"For you," Leonora said to Rafael with a motherly smile, "I could find
only this fur cloak. Come, now, take off that jacket of yours; it's
With a blush, the young man refused. No, he was all right! Nothing would
happen to him! He had been wetter than that many times.
Leonora without losing her smile, seemed to grow impatient. No one in
that house ever talked back to her.
"Come, Rafael, don't be so silly. We'll have to treat you like a child."
And taking him by a sleeve, as if he were a refractory baby, she began
to pull at his jacket.
The young man, in his confusion, was hardly aware of what was taking
place. He seemed to be traveling along on an endless horizon, at greater
speed than he had been swept down the river just before. She had called
him by his first name; he was a pampered guest in a house he had for
months been trying in vain to enter, and she, Leonora, was calling him
"child" and treating him like a child, as if they had been friends all
their lives. What sort of woman was this? Was he not lost in some
strange world? The women of the city--the girls he met at the parties at
his home, seemed to be creatures of another race, living far, ever so
far, away, at the other end of the earth, cut off from him forever by
that immense sheet of water.
"Come, Mr. Obstinate, or we'll have to undress you like a doll."
She was bending over him; he could feel her breath upon his cheeks, and
the touch of her delicate, agile hands; and a sense of delicious
intoxication swept over him.
The fur coat was drawn snugly about his shoulders. It was a rare
garment; a cloak of blue fox as soft as silk, thick, yet light as the
plumes of some fantastic bird. Though Rafael passed for a tall man, its
edges touched the floor. The young man realized that thousands of francs
had suddenly been thrown over his back, and tremblingly he gathered the
bottom up, lest he should step upon it.
Leonora laughed at his embarrassment.
"Don't be afraid; no matter if you do tread on it. One would think you
were wearing a sacred veil from the respect you show that coat. It isn't
worth much. I use it only to travel in. A grandduke gave it to me in
And to show more clearly how little she prized the princely gift, she
wrapped it closer around the boy, patting at his shoulders to fit it
more tightly to him.
Slowly they walked back into the front room. Meanwhile, the appearance
of the barber, dressed in his luxuriant gown, was greeted with shouts of
laughter in the dining-room. Cupido was taking full advantage of the
occasion. The train in one hand and stroking his side-whiskers with the
other, he was writhing about like a prima donna in her big scene and
singing in a falsetto soprano voice. The peasant family laughed like
mad, forgetting the disaster that had overtaken their home; Beppa opened
her eyes wide, surprised at the elegant figure of the man, and the grace
with which he pronounced the Italian verses. Even poor dona Pepa hitched
around in her armchair and applauded. The barber, according to her, was
the most charming devil in the world.
Rafael was standing on the balcony, at Leonora's side, his gaze lost in
the darkness, his spirit lulled by the music of her sweet voice, his
body snug and comfortable in that elegant garment which seemed to have
retained something of the warmth and perfume of her shoulders. With
marks of very real interest, she was questioning him about the desperate
trip down the river.
Rafael answered her inquiries with bated breath.
"What you have done," the prima donna was saying, "deserves my deep,
deep gratitude! It is a chivalrous act worthy of ancient times.
Lohengrin, arriving in his little boat to save Elsa! Only the swan is
lacking ...unless you want to call Cupido a swan...."
"And suppose you had been carried off--drowned!..." the youth exclaimed
in justification of his rashness.
"Drowned!...I must confess that at first I was somewhat afraid. Not so
much of dying, for I'm somewhat tired of life--as you will realize after
you've known me a little longer. But a death like that, suffocated in
that mud, that filthy, dirty water that smells so bad, doesn't at all
appeal to me. If it were some green, transparent Swiss lake!... I want
beauty even in death; I'm concerned with the 'final posture,' like the
Romans, and I was afraid of perishing here like a rat in a sewer.... And
nevertheless, I couldn't help laughing at my aunt and our poor servants
to see the fright they were in!... Now the water is no longer rising,
and the house is strong. Our only trouble is that we're cut off, and
I'm waiting for daylight to come so that we can see where we are. The
sight of all this country changed into a lake must be very beautiful,
isn't it, Rafael?"
"You've probably seen far more interesting things," the young man
"I don't deny that; but I'm always most impressed by the sensation of
And she fell silent, showing by her sudden seriousness the vexation that
his distant allusion to her past had caused.
For some moments neither of them spoke; and it was Leonora who finally
broke the silence.
"The truth is, if the water had gone on rising, we would have owed our
lives to you.... Let's see, now, frankly: why did you come? What kind
inspiration made you think of me. You hardly know me!"
Rafael blushed with embarrassment, and trembled from head to foot, as if
she had asked him for a mortal confession. He was on the point of
uttering the great truth, baring in one great explosion all his thoughts
and dreams and dreads of past days. But he restrained himself and
grasped wildly for an answer.
"My enthusiasm for the artist," he replied timidly. "I admire your
talent very much."
Leonora burst into a noisy laugh.
"But you don't know me! You've never heard me sing!... What do you know
about my "talent," as they call it? If it weren't for that chatterbox of
a Cupido, Alcira would never dream that I am a singer and that I'm
somewhat well-known--except in my own country."
Rafael was crushed by the reply; he did not dare protest.
"Come, Rafael," the woman continued affectionately, "don't be a child
and try to pass off the fibs boys use to deceive mama with. I know why
you came here. Do you imagine you haven't been seen from this very
balcony hovering about here every afternoon, lurking in the road like a
spy? You are discovered, sir."
The shy Rafael thought the balcony was collapsing underneath his feet.
He shivered in abject terror, drew the fur cloak tighter around him,
without knowing what he was about, and shook his head in energetic
"So it's not true, you fraud?" she said, with comic indignation. "You
deny that since we met up at the Hermitage you have been taking all your
walks in this neighborhood? _Dios mio_! What a monster of falsehood have
we here? And how brazenly he lies."
And Rafael, vanquished by her frank merriment, had finally to smile,
confessing his crime with a loud laugh.
"You're probably surprised at what I do and say," continued Leonora
drawing closer to him, leaning a shoulder against his with unaffected
carelessness, as if she were with a girl friend. "I'm not like most
women. A fine thing it would be for me, with the life I lead, to play
the hypocrite!... My poor aunt thinks I'm crazy because I say just what
I feel; in my time I've been much liked and much disliked on account of
the mania I have for not concealing anything.... Do you want me to tell
you the real truth?... Very well; you've come here because you love me,
or, at least, because you think you love me: a failing all boys of your
age have, as soon as they find a woman different from the others they
Rafael bowed his head and said nothing; he did not dare look up. He felt
the gaze of those green eyes upon the back of his head and they seemed
to reach right into his soul.
"Let's see your face. Raise that head of yours a little. Why don't you
say it isn't so, as you did before? Am I right or not?"
"And supposing you were right?..." Rafael ventured to murmur, finding
himself thus suddenly discovered.
"Since I know I am, I thought it best to provoke this explanation, so as
to avoid any misunderstandings. After what has happened to-night, I want
to have you for a friend; friend you understand, and nothing more; a
comradeship based on gratitude. We ought to know in advance exactly
where we stand. We'll be friends, won't we?... You must feel quite at
home here; and I'm sure I shall find you a very agreeable chum. What
you've done to-night has given you a greater hold on my affection than
you could ever have gained in any ordinary social way; but you're going
to promise me that you won't drift into any of that silly love-making
that has always been the bane of my existence."
"And if I can't help myself?" murmured Rafael.
"'And if I can't help myself'," said Leonora, laughing and mimicking
the voice of the young man and the expression on his face. "'And if I
can't help myself'! That's what they all say! And why can't you help
yourself? How can one take seriously a love for a woman you are now
seeing for the second time? These sudden passions are all inventions of
you men. They're not genuine. You get them out of the novels you read,
or out of the operas we sing. Nonsense that poets write and callow boys
swallow like so many boobies and try to transplant into real life! The
trouble is we singers are in the secret, and laugh at such bosh. Well,
now you know--good friends, and the soft pedal on sentiment and drama,
eh? In that way we'll get along very well and the house will be yours."
Leonora paused and, threatening him playfully with her forefinger,
"Otherwise, you may consider me just as ungrateful and cruel as you
please, but your gallant conduct of to-night won't count. You'll not be
permitted to enter this place again. I want no adorers; I have come here
looking for rest, friendship, peace ... Love! A beautiful, cruel
She was speaking very earnestly, without moving, her gaze lost on that
immense sheet of water.
Rafael dared to look at her squarely now. He had raised his head and was
studying her as she stood there thinking. Her beautiful face was tinted
with a bluish light, that seemed to surround her with a halo of romance.
Morning was coming on, and the leaden curtains of the sky were rent in
the direction of the sea, allowing a livid light to filter through.
Leonora shivered as if from cold, and snuggled instinctively against
Rafael. With a shake of her head she seemed to rout a troop of painful
thoughts, and stretching out a hand to him she said:
"Which shall it be? Friends, or distant acquaintances? Do you promise to
be good, be a real comrade?"
Rafael eagerly clasped that soft, muscular hand, and felt her rings cut
deliciously into his fingers.
"Very well--friends then!... I'll resign myself, since there's no help
"In that case you will find what you now believe a sacrifice something
quite tolerable and quite consoling; you don't know me, but I know
myself. Believe me, even should I come to love you--as I never
shall--you would be the loser by it. I am worth much more as a friend
than as a lover. And more than one man in the world has found that out."
"I will be a friend, ready to do much more for you than I've done
to-night. I hope you will come to know me too."
"No promises now! What more can you do for me? The river doesn't flood
every day. You can't expect to be a hero every other moment. No, I'm
satisfied with to-night's exploit. You can't imagine how grateful I am.
It has made a very deep impression on my--friendly--heart.... May I be
quite frank? Well, when I met you there at the Hermitage, I took you for
one of these local _senoritos_ who have such an easy time of it in town,
and so, look upon every woman they meet as their property for the
asking. Afterwards, when I saw you lurking about the house, my scorn
increased. 'Who does that little dandy think he is?' I said to myself.
And how Beppa and I laughed over it! I hadn't even noticed your face
and your figure: I hadn't realized how handsome you were...."
Leonora laughed at the thought of how angry she had been, and Rafael,
overwhelmed by such candor, likewise smiled to conceal his
"But after what happened to-night I am fond of you ... as people are
fond of friends. I am alone here: the friendship of a good and noble boy
like yourself, capable of sacrifice for a woman whom he hardly knows, is
a very comforting thing to have. Besides, that much doesn't compromise
me. I am a bird of passage, you see; I have alighted here because I'm
tired, ill--I don't just know what's the matter, but deeply broken in
spirit anyhow. I need rest, just plain existence--a plunge into sweet
nothingness, where I can forget everything; and I gratefully accept your
friendship. Later on, when you least expect it, probably, I'll fly away.
The very first morning when I wake up, feel quite myself again--and hear
inside my head the song of the mischievous bird that has advised me to
do so many foolish things in my life--I'll pack up my trunk and take
flight! I'll drop you a line of course; I'll send you newspaper
clippings that speak of me, and you'll see you have a friend who does
not forget you and who sends you greetings from London, Saint
Petersburg, or New York--any one of the corners of this world which many
believe so large yet where I am unable to stir without encountering
things that bore me."
"May that moment be long delayed!" said Rafael. "May it never come!"
"Rash boy!" Leonora exclaimed. "You don't know me. If I were to stay
here very long, we'd finish by quarreling and coming to blows. At bottom
I hate men: I have always been their most terrible enemy."
Behind their backs they heard the rustle of the gown that Cupido was
dragging along behind him with absurd antics. He was coming to the
balcony with dona Pepita to see the sunrise.
Through its dense clouds the sky was beginning to shed a gray, wan
light, under which the vast, watery plain took on the whitish color of
absinthe. Down the stream the debris of the inundation was floating,
sweepings of wretched poverty, uprooted trees, clumps of reeds, thatched
roofs from huts, all dirty, slimy, nauseating. Bits of flotsam and
jetsam became entangled between the orange-trees and formed dams that
little by little grew with the new spoils brought along by the current.
In the distance at the very end of the lake, a number of black points
could be seen in regular rhythmic motion, stirring their legs like
aquatic flies around some roofs barely protruding above the immense
field of water. The rescuers had arrived from Valencia--with whale-boats
of the Fleet, brought overland by rail to the scene of the flood.
The provincial authorities would soon be arriving in Alcira; and the
presence of Rafael was indispensable. Cupido himself, with sudden
gravity, advised him to go and meet those boats.
While the barber was putting on his own clothes, Rafael, with intense
regret, removed his fur cloak. It seemed that in taking it off he was
losing the warmth of that night of sweet intimacy, the contact of that
soft shoulder that had for hours long been leaning against him.
Leonora meanwhile looked at him fixedly.
"We understand each other, don't we?" she asked, slowly. "Friends, with
no hope of anything more than that. If you break the pact, you'll not
enter this place again, not even by the second-story window, as you did
"Yes, friends and nothing more," Rafael murmured with a tone of sincere
sadness, that seemed to move Leonora.
Her green eyes lighted up: her pupils seemed to glitter with spangles of
gold. She stepped nearer and held out her hand.
"You're a good boy; that's the way I like you: resignation and
obedience. For this time, and in reward for your good sense, we'll make
just one exception. Let's not part thus coldly.... So,--you may kiss
me,--as they do it on the stage--here!"
And she raised her hand up toward his lips. Rafael seized it hungrily
and kissed it over and over again, until Leonora, tearing it away with a
violence that showed extraordinary strength, reprimanded him sharply.
"You rogue!... Up to mischief so soon! What an abuse of confidence?
Good-bye! Cupido is calling you.... Good-bye."
And she pushed him toward the balcony, where the barber was already
holding the boat against the railing.
"Hop in, Rafael," said Cupido. "Better lean on me; the water's going
down and the boat's very low," Rafael jumped into his white craft,
which was now dirty and stained from the red water. The barber took the
oars. They began to move away.
"Good-bye! Good-bye! Many thanks!" cried dona Pepa. The maid and the
whole family of the gardener had come out on the balcony.
Rafael let go the tiller, and turned toward the house. He could see
nothing, however, but that proud beauty, who was waving her handkerchief
to them. He watched her for a long time, and when the crests of the
submerged trees hid the balcony from view, he bowed his head, giving
himself up entirely to the silent pleasure of tasting the sweetness that
he could still feel upon his burning lips.
The elections set the whole District agog. The crucial moment for the
House of Brull had come, and all its loyal henchmen, as though still
uncertain of the Party's omnipotence, and fearing the sudden appearance
of hidden enemies, were running this way and that about the city and the
outlying towns, shouting Rafael's name as a clarion call to victory.
The inundation was something of the forgotten past. The beneficent sun
had dried the fields. The orchards fertilized by the silt of the recent
flood looked more beautiful than ever. A magnificent harvest was
forecasted, and, as sole reminders of the catastrophe, there remained
only a shattered enclosure here, a fallen fence there, or some sunken
road with the banks washed away. Most of the damage had been repaired in
a few days, and people were quite content, referring to the past danger
jokingly. Until next time!
Besides, plenty of relief money had been given out. Help had come from
Valencia, from Madrid, from every corner of Spain, thanks to the
whimpering publicity given the inundation in the local press; and since
the pious believer must attribute all his boons to the protection of
some patron saint, the peasants thanked Rafael and his mother for this
alms, resolving to be more faithful than ever to the powerful family.
So--long live the Father of the Poor!
Dona Bernarda's ambitious dreams were on the point of realization, and
she could not give herself a moment's rest. Her son's cool indifference
was something she could not understand for the life of her! The District
was his all right, but was that a reason for falling asleep on the job?
Who could tell what the "enemies of law and order"--there was more than
one of them in the city--might spring at the very last moment? No, he
must wake up--go and make a speech--now at this town, now at that--and
say a few words of encouragement to the people of property, especially.
And why not visit the _alcalde_, down in X---, just to show that poor
devil he was being taken seriously. Rafael must show himself in public,
keep everybody talking about him and thinking about him!
And Rafael obeyed, but taking good care to avoid the company of don
Andres on such trips, in order to spend a few hours at the Blue House on
the way out or back, or else, to cut his engagement altogether and pass
the day with Leonora, trembling to return home lest his mother should
have learned what he had been up to.
Dona Bernarda, in fact, had not been slow in detecting her son's new
friendship. To begin with, her one concern in life was Rafael's health
and conduct. And in that gossipy inquisitive country-town, her son could
do virtually nothing which she did not know all about in the course of a
few hours. An indiscreet remark of Cupido had even brought her to the
bottom of that mysterious and perilous night trip down the flooded
river--not to rescue a "poor family," but to call on that
_comica_--that "chorus girl"--as dona Bernarda called Leonora in a
furious burst of scorn. Stormy scenes occurred that were to leave a
strong undercurrent of bitterness and fear in Rafael's character. Dona
Bernarda's harshness of disposition broke the young man's spirit, making
him realize with what good reason he had always feared his mother. That
uncompromising pietist, with her armorplate of impeccable virtue and
"sound principles" about her, crushed him flat with her very first
words. What in the world was he thinking of? Was he bound to dishonor
the name of Brull? Now after so many, many years of family sacrifice,
was he going to make a fool of himself, and give his enemies a hold on
him, just because of the first ballet-skirt that came along? And in her
rage she did not hesitate to rend the veil of reticence behind which her
conjugal fury and her conjugal unhappiness had run their parallel
"The same as your father!" dona Bernarda exclaimed. "There's no escaping
blood: a woman-chaser, a friend of low-lives, ready to drive me out of
house and home for the sake of any one of them ... and I, big fool that
I am, work for men like that! Forgetting the salvation of my soul in the
next world to see you get farther along in this than your father did!...
And how do you repay me? Just as he did; with one disappointment, one
irritation, after another!"
Then softening somewhat and feeling the need of imparting her great
plans for the future, she would pass from anger to friendly confidence,
and give Rafael insight into the condition of the family. He was so busy
with Party affairs, and thumbing his big books upstairs, that he did
not know how things were going at home. And he didn't need to know for
that matter: she was there to take care of that. But Rafael must realize
the gaps that had been opened in their fortune by his father's wild
conduct just before he died. She was performing miracles of economy.
Thanks to her efficient administration of affairs, and to the loyal aid
of don Andres, many debts had already been paid off, and she had
redeemed several mortgages. But the burden was a heavy one and it would
still be many years before she could call herself quite free of it.
Besides--and as dona Bernarda came to this part of her talk she grew
tenderer and more insinuating still--he was now the leading man of the
District and so he must be the wealthiest. Now that wouldn't be a
difficult thing to manage. All he had to do was, be a good son, and
follow the advice of his mama, who loved him more than anything else in
the world... A deputy now, and later on, when he came back from Madrid,
marry! There were plenty of good girls around--well brought up, educated
in the fear of the Lord--and millionairesses besides--who would be more
than glad to be his wife.
Rafael smiled faintly at this harangue. He knew whom his mother had in
mind--Remedios, the daughter of the richest man in town--a rustic, the
latter, with more luck than brains, who flooded the English markets with
oranges and made enormous profits, circumventing by instinctive
shrewdness all the commercial combinations made against him.
That was why Rafael's mother was always insistently urging her son to
visit the house of Remedios, inventing all sorts of pretexts to get him
there. Besides, dona Bernarda invited Remedios to the Brull place
frequently, and rarely indeed did Rafael come home of an afternoon
without finding that timid maiden there--a dull, handsomish sort of
girl, dressed up in clothes that did cruel injustice to a peasant beauty
rapidly transformed, by her father's good luck, into a young "society"
"But, mama," said Rafael, smiling. "I'm not thinking of marriage!... And
when I do, I'll have to consider my own feelings."
After that interview a moral gulf had opened between mother and son. As
a child, Rafael had known his mother to frown and sulk after some
mischievous prank of his. But now, her aggressive, menacing,
uncommunicative glumness was prolonged for days and days.
On returning home at night he would find himself subjected to a
searching cross-examination that would last all during supper. Don
Andres would usually be present, though he did not dare raise his head
when that masterful woman spoke. Where had he been? Whom had he seen?...
Rafael felt himself surrounded by a system of espionage that followed
him wherever he went in the city or in the country.
"No sir, today you were at the chorus-girl's house again!... Take care,
Rafael! Mark my word! You're killing me, you're killing me ...!"
And then those absurd clandestine trips to the Blue House began, the
leading man of the district, the advocate of Alcira's fortunes, creeping
on his stomach, skulking from bush to bush, in order not to be seen by
Don Andres did his best to console the irate woman. It was just a
passing whim of Rafael's! Boys will be boys! You've got to let them have
a good time now and then! What do you expect with a handsome fellow like
that and from the best family in the region! And the cynical old man,
accustomed to easy conquests in the suburbs, blinked maliciously, taking
it for granted that Rafael had won a complete triumph down at the Blue
House. How else explain the youth's assiduity in his visits there, and
his timid though tenacious rebelliousness against his mother's
"Such affairs, oh you enjoy them--what's the use! But in the end they
weary a fellow, dona Bernarda," the old man said sententiously. "She'll
be clearing out some fine day. Besides, just let Rafael go to Madrid as
deputy, and see the society there! When he comes back he'll have
forgotten this woman ever existed!"
The faithful lieutenant of the Brulls would have been astonished to know
how little Rafael was progressing with his suit.
Leonora was not the woman that she had shown herself on the night of the
flood. With the fascination of danger gone, the novelty of the
adventure, and the extraordinary circumstances of their second
interview, she treated Rafael with a kindly indifference like any other
of the adorers who had flocked about her in her day. She had come to
look upon him as a new piece of furniture that she found in place in
front of her every afternoon; an automaton, who appeared as regularly as
a clock strikes, to spend hours and hours staring at her, pale,
shrinking with an absurd consciousness of inferiority, and often
answering her questions with stupid phrases that made her laugh.
Her irony and deliberate frankness wounded Rafael cruelly. "Hello,
Rafaelito," she would say sometimes as he came in. "You here again?
Better look out! People will be talking about us before long. Then what
will mama say to you?" And Rafael would be stung to the quick. What a
disgrace, to be tied to a mother's apron-strings, and have to stoop to
all those subterfuges to visit this place without raising a rumpus at
But try as he would, meanwhile, he could not shake off the spell that
Leonora was exercising over him.
Besides, what wonderful afternoons when she deigned to be good!
Sometimes, wearied with walks about the open country, and bored, as
might have been expected of a frivolous, fickle character like hers,
with the monotony of the landscape of orange-trees and palms, she would
take refuge in her parlor, and sit down at the piano! With the hushed
awe of a pious worshipper, Rafael would take a chair in a corner, and
gluing his eyes upon those two majestic shoulders over which curly
tresses fell like golden plumes, he would listen to her rich, sweet,
mellow voice as it blended with the languishing chords of the piano;
while through the open windows the breath of the murmurous orchard made
its way drenched in the golden light of autumn, saturated with the
seasoned perfume of the ripe oranges that peered with faces of fire
through the festoons of leaves.
Shubert, with his moody romances, was her favorite composer. The
melancholy of that sad music had a peculiar fascination for her in her
solitude. Her passionate, tumultuous soul seemed to fall into a
languorous enervation under the fragrance of the orange blossoms. At
times, she would be assailed by sudden recollections of triumphs on the
stage, and on such occasions, setting the piano ringing with the sublime
fury of the Valkyries' Ride, she would begin to shout Brunhilde's
"Hojotojo," the impetuous, savage war-cry of Wotan's daughter--a
melodious scream with which she had brought many an audience to its
feet, and which, in that deserted paradise, made Rafael shudder and
admire, as if the singer were some strange divinity--a blond goddess
with green eyes, wont to charge across the ice-fields through whirlwinds
of driving snow, but who, there, in a land of sunshine, had deigned to
become a simple, an entrancing woman!
And then again, throwing her beautiful body back in her chair, as if in
her mind's eye she could see some old palatial hall festooned with
roses, and in it a maze of hoop skirts, powdered wigs, and red heels,
whirling in the dance, she would brush the keys with a minuet by Mozart,
as subtly fragrant as priceless perfume, as seductive as the smile of a
painted princess with beauty-patches and false dimples!
Rafael had not forgotten the first night of their friendship, nor the
fingers that had been offered to his lips in that selfsame parlor. Once
he was moved to repeat the scene, and bending low over the keys, had
tried to kiss Leonora's hand.
The actress started, as if awakening from a dream. Her eyes flashed
angrily, though her lips did not lose their smile; and she raised her
hand threateningly, with all its fantastic glitter of jewelry, and
pretended to strike at him:
"Take care, Rafael; you're a child and I'll treat you as such. You
already know that I don't like to be annoyed. I won't send you away this
time, but if you do it again, you'll get a good cuffing. Don't forget
that when I want my hand kissed I begin by giving it voluntarily. What a
nuisance! Such a thing happens only once in a life-time.... But, I
understand: no more music for today; it's all over! I'll have to
entertain the little boy so's he won't fuss."
And she began to tell him stories of her professional career, which
Rafael at once appraised as new progress toward intimacy with the divine
He looked over her pictures for the various operas in which she had
sung; a rich collection of beautiful photographs, with studio signatures
in almost every European tongue, some of them in strange alphabets that
Rafael could not identify. That pale, mystic Elizabeth of _Tannhaeuser_
had been taken in Milan; that ideal, romantic Elsa of _Lohengrin_, in
Munich; here was a wide-eyed, bourgeois Eva from _die Meistersinger_,
photographed in Vienna; there a proud arrogant Brunhilde, with hostile,
flashing eyes, that bore the imprint of St. Petersburg. And there were
other souvenirs of seasons at Covent Garden, at the San Carlos of
Lisbon, the Scala of Milan, and opera houses of New York and Rio de
As Rafael handled the large pasteboard mountings, he felt much like a
boy watching strange steamers entering a harbor and scattering the
perfumes of distant, mysterious lands all around. Each picture seemed
to wrap him in the atmosphere of its country, and from that peaceful
salon, murmuring with the breathing of the silent orchard, he seemed to
be traveling all over the earth.
The photographs were all of the same characters--heroines of Wagner.
Leonora, a fanatic worshipper of the German genius, was ever speaking of
him in terms of intimate familiarity, as if she had known him
personally, and wished to sing no operas but his. And in her eager
desire to compass all the Master's work, she did not hesitate to
compromise her reputation for power and vigor by attempting roles of
lighter or tenderer vein.
Rafael gazed at the portraits one by one; here she seemed emaciated,
wan, as if she had just recovered from an illness; there, she was strong
and proud, as if challenging the world with her beauty.
"Oh, Rafael!" she murmured pensively. "Life isn't all gaiety. I have had
my stormy times like everybody else. I have lived centuries, it seems,
and these strips of cardboard are chapters of my life-story."
And while she surrendered to a dreamy re-living of the past, Rafael
would go into ecstasies over a picture of Brunhilde, a beautiful
photograph which he had more than once thought of stealing.
That Brunhilde was Leonora herself; the arrogant Valkyrie, the strong,
the valiant Amazon, capable of trying to beat him for the slightest
unwarranted liberty he took--and of doing it besides. Beneath the helmet
of polished steel, with its two wings of white plumes, her blond locks
fell, while a savage flash glittered in her green eyes, and her
nostrils seemed to palpitate with indomitable fierceness. A cloak fell
from her shoulders that were round, muscular, powerful. A steel coat of
mail curved outward around her magnificent bust, and her bare arms, one
holding the lance, and the other resting on a burnished shield, as
shining and luminous as a sheet of crystal, showed vigor and strength
under feminine grace of line. There she was in all her goddess-like
majesty--the Pallas of a mythology of the North, as beautiful as
heroism, as terrible as war. Rafael could understand the mad enthusiasm,
the electrified commotion of her audiences as they saw her stepping out
among the rocks of painted canvas, setting the boards a-tremble with her
lithe footsteps, rudely raising her lance and shield above the white
wings of her helmet and shouting the cry of the Valkyries--"_Hojotoho!_"
which, repeated in the green tranquility of that Valencian orchard,
seemed to make the lanes of foliage quiver with a tremor of admiring
Across the whole world, and everywhere in triumph, that whimsical,
adventuresome, madcap woman, of whose life as an actress so many stories
were told, had carried the arrogance of the virgin warrior-maid
conceived by the master Wagner. In a bulky book, of uneven irregular
pages, where the singer with the minute conscientiousness of a child,
had preserved everything the newspapers of the globe had written about
her, Rafael found echos of her stormy ovations. Many of the printed
clippings were yellow with age, but they could still evoke before his
dazzled eyes, visions of theaters packed with elegant, sensuous women,
as beautiful as Wotan's daughter in the coat-of-mail; atmospheres hot
with light and enthusiasm, a-glitter with sparkling jewels and
sparkling eyes; and in the background, with her helmet and her lance,
the dominating Valkyrie herself greeted with frantic applause and
In the collection were newspaper reproductions of the singer's
photographs, biographical notices, critical articles relating to the
triumphs of the celebrated _diva_ Leonora Brunna--for such was the stage
name adopted by Doctor Moreno's daughter--clipping after clipping
printed in Castilian or South American Spanish; columns of the clear,
close print of English papers; paragraphs on the coarse, thin paper of
the French and Italian press; compact masses of Gothic characters, which
troubled Rafael's eyes, and unintelligible Russian letters, that, to
him, looked like whimsical scrawls of a childish hand. And all in praise
of Leonora, one universal tribute to the talent of that woman, who was
looked upon so scornfully by the citified peasants of the boy's native
town. A divinity, indeed! And Rafael felt a growing hatred and contempt
for the gross, uncouth virtue of those who had left her in a social
vacuum. Why had she come to Alcira, anyway? What could possibly have led
her to abandon a world of triumphs, where she was admired by everyone,
for the life, virtually, of a barnyard?
Later she showed him some of her more personal mementoes; jewels of rare
beauty, expensive baubles, "testimonials," reminiscent of "evenings of
honor," when admirers had surprised her in the green room while outside
the audience was applauding wildly, and she, lowering her lance, and
surrounded by ushers with huge bouquets, would step forward to the
footlights and make her bow of acknowledgment, under a deluge of tinsel
and flowers. One medallion bore the portrait of the venerable don Pedro
of Brazil, the artist-emperor, who paid tribute to the singer in a
greeting written in diamonds. Gem-incrusted frames of gold spoke of
enthusiasts who perhaps had begun by desiring the woman to resign
themselves in the end to admiration for the artist. Here was a
collection of illuminated diplomas from charitable societies thanking
her for assistance at benefits. Queen Victoria of England had given her
a fan with an autograph dated from a concert at Windsor Castle. From
Isabel II came a royal bracelet, as a souvenir of various evenings at
the Castilla Palace in Paris. Millionaires, princes, grand-dukes,
presidents of Spanish-American republics, had left a whole museum of
costly trinkets at her feet. Characteristic of adorers from the United
States, where people always temper enthusiasm with usefulness, were a
number of portfolios, their bindings much worn by time, containing
railroad shares, land titles, stocks in enterprises of varying
stability, suggesting the rambles of the American promotor from the
prairies of Canada to the pampas of the Argentine.
In the presence of all the trophies that the arrogant Valkyrie had
gathered in on her triumphal passage through the world, Rafael felt
pride, first of all, at being friends with such a woman; but at the same
time a sense of his own insignificance, exaggerating, if anything, the
difference that separated them. How in the world had he ever dared make
love to a person like Leonora Brunna?
Finally came the most interesting, the most intimate of all her
treasures--an album which she allowed him hurriedly to glimpse through,
forbidding him, however, even to look at certain of the pages. It was a
volume modestly bound in dark leather with silver clasps; but Rafael
gazed upon it as on a wonderful fetish, and with all the awe-struck
adoration inspired by great names. Kings and emperors were the least
among the celebrities who had knelt in homage before the goddess. The
overshadowing geniuses of art were there, dedicating a word of
affection, a line of verse, a bar of music, to the beautiful songstress.
Rafael stared in open-mouthed wonderment at the signatures of the old
Verdi and of Boito. Then came the younger masters, of the new Italian
school, noisy and triumphant with the clamor of art brought within range
of the mob. In gallant phrases the Frenchmen, Massenet and Saint-Saens,
paid their respects to the greatest interpreter of the greatest of
composers; Rafael could decipher what was in Italian, scenting the sweet
perfume of Latin adulation despite the fact that he scarcely knew the
language. A sonnet by Illica moved him actually to tears. Other
inscriptions were meaningless to him--the lines from Hans Keller,
especially, the great orchestral conductor, disciple and confidant of
Wagner, the artistic executor, charged with watching over the master's
glory--that Hans Keller of whom Leonora was speaking all the time with
the fondness of a woman and the admiration of an artist--all of which
did not prevent her from adding that he was "a barbarian." Stanzas in
German, in Russian and in English, which, as the singer re-read them
brought a contented smile to her features, Rafael, to his great
despair, could not induce her to translate.
"Those are matters you wouldn't understand. Go on to the next page. I
mustn't make you blush."
And that was the only explanation she would give--as though he were a
Some Italian verses, written in a tremulous hand and in crooked lines,
attracted Rafael's attention. He could half make their meaning out, but